Radar Festival, Manchester, July 28, 2023
Over the past year, the cult of Sleep Token has grown at a staggering pace. Round every turn, the nameless deities seem to amass a new achievement – from selling out Wembley Arena in 10 minutes, to releasing their highest ever charting album in the form of the eclectic pop-metal epic ‘Take Me Back To Eden’, it seems nobody can resist the Sleep Token mystique.
But, tonight, the masked demigods will be enacting their most significant ritual yet.
Serving as their largest festival headliner to date, they are set to close off Radar Festival’s opening night – and, judging by the masses of cloaked figures, runic t-shirts and arms smeared in tar-thick paint swarming into the main room of Manchester’s O2 Victoria Warehouse, it seems the Sleep Token cult have come out in full force.
Radar have perfectly teased fans’ palettes over the course of the day, hand-selecting an impressive array of artists spanning from crunching prog, eclectic tech-metal to delicate post-rock. The sparkling, piano driven prog-rock of Exploring Birdsong (fronted by Sleep Token backing vocalist Lynsey Ward) astounds, before the soporific, echoing vocals of post-rock angel A.A. Williams hypnotise you even further. God Is An Astronaut’s thick, monolithic sound leaves crowds in a daze, the richly crafted world-building a delight.
Heavier acts come in the form of tech-metallers Unprocessed, with their three-guitarist-strong onslaught of intricate fretwork, and the eclectic rattling of the iconically playful Haken, honouring the 10th anniversary of their album The Mountain by knocking out some of its finest jazz-infused ragers.
The contrasting textures of the day almost acts as a stop-by-stop tour of the Sleep Token DNA, moving between the feather-light vocals to the heavier sprinklings of scattered riffs and breakdowns. But now, it’s time for the elusive clan themselves.
Tonight’s ritual commences with a single beam of spotlight. As the hazy blue beam is cast down on-stage, the crowd howling with anticipation, a figure slowly makes their way out. The silhouetted form of Vessel causes the room to still for a moment – before his deep crooning of “when we were made, it was no accident…” causes the masses to erupt into accompanying song.
As opener ‘Chokehold’ floods out, the chokehold Sleep Token seem to have over the room is immense. Vessel’s call of “you’ve got me in a chokehold” is almost drowned out by the pure volume of the fans, eager to show their dedication to the collective, desperate to show they know every single word.
Vessel plays up to the crowd, embodying the demigod-like position of power he is in when he graces the stage. As the sexual undertones of ‘The Summoning’ are amplified by woozy red lighting, Vessel is working the crowd, hands extended like a preacher as he pivots from blisteringly high notes down into demonic growls.
The multi-faceted appeal of Sleep Token is evident with each passing track. Tracks like ‘Hypnosis’ move from crowds waving delicately along to the pulse of the choruses, before crashing into a raw-edged breakdown. The transition is smooth, and the lighter moments only highlight the musical talents of the collective. Tracks like ‘Aqua Regia’ hook the crowd in the bouncy swing of the track, or Vessel’s delicate piano playing exposed as the girthy riffs fall away for ‘Atlantic’. Some of the most mesmerising moments come in the form of the three backing vocalists singing in harmony, angelic voices fusing together gorgeously.
In the more subdued moments, something become quite clear: Sleep Token aren’t the heaviest, most gut-wrenchingly feral metal band going – but they don’t need to be. At times, they are indie-rock, or outright pop, yet the ability to seamlessly weave those heavier elements into their soundscaping is what packs the real punch. The contrast almost elevates the metal breakdowns – the anticipation turns the eventual crushing breakdown into something grander, something just as blisteringly weighty as a 10 minute long gritty heavy metal banger.
It’s a testament to Sleep Token’s musical abilities, as well as their ability to win over a crowd. It’s not very often you can get a mass of macho metalheads to sway in time to a gooey eyed, lovesick anthem like ‘The Love You Want’, stage drenched in neon-pink lighting, yet Vessel seem to manage with ease.
While the set isn’t a mosh-fest, it is a true experience. Every track sinks you into a particular feeling, guiding you through the ritualistic expressions of love, lust, despair and everything in-between. The diverse flavours keep you hooked, eager to see just what Vessel will serve up next, what emotion he will step into and wholeheartedly embody. And the room responds like every lyric is a prayer, chanting back from atop shoulders, or into a friend’s equally as ecstatic face.
The encore serves up the finest moment of the night, the performance of ‘The Night Does Not Belong To God’ a total showstopper. It’s a track that showcases just what Sleep Token are capable of, the instrumental performance crisp and assured. Closing out the night, ‘The Offering’ offers up the mightiest breakdown of the evening – the anticipation turning it into something electric, the eventual drop ricocheting through your body, entirely satisfying .
The set ends things on a glorious high, once again proving just how impressive Sleep Token truly can be. While their records showcase their abilities, the live setting somehow elevates their sound, giving it more purpose – the in-person ritual turning each emotion into something tangible and undeniably powerful. When packed in the thick of a room of worshippers, you can’t help but understand why they are luring in the masses right now.